Today, while talking to a dear friend on Skype, I was telling her how grateful I am not to be having monthly check-ups at a Chinese hospital. Who needs the constant probing, testing and ultrasounds when I know things are progressively normally? He’s swimming around in there and kicking me all the time. The second time around has its bonuses, that’s for sure. My body knows that things are just fine.
Those waiting rooms in 2011, where a dozen or so petite pregnant Chinese women sat silently on plush purple armchairs, looking comfortable and dreamy, were a nightmare for me. I was always the only foreigner, often much taller and larger than anyone else, and the nurse’s desk sat a whole room width away from the scale that we were expected to stand on to declare our rising weight.
When we first entered the waiting room to register our arrival, the nurse took our blood pressure at the desk and then shooed us across the room to go stand on the scale. Then, she had us yell back our weight to her at the desk so that everyone could hear. I seemed to be the only one horrified by this. It made me cringe every time – for me and for the other women alike.
I know I’m not a big person in this world. I’m not heavy, portly, hefty or big-boned. In China, however, I am among the larger women here. I always have to buy an “L” in clothing, sometimes even an “XL,” and that’s when I’m not pregnant. When I’m pregnant and expansive (!), clothing is simply unavailable. It’s a good thing I knew to stock up.
Yet, when speaking of body weight, the Chinese language also has another limitation: there is only one word for being heavier than average and it’s fat (胖). So, As I crossed over the acceptable 30lb weight gain “limit” (15kg) when I was only seven months pregnant and then continued to watch the numbers on the scale rise, the nurses and doctors continually referenced how fat I was getting.
Each time they used the word, I felt attacked, even though it’s not my language. Did they think I wasn’t aware of my growing weight? I’d never felt such heaviness in my limbs, such a strain on my knees and joints! I felt it with every step. Did they think I was doing it on purpose?
What made my body gain so much weight last time, I’ll never know. Perhaps it was a defense mechanism for a life of thinness. Perhaps it was just my body’s hormonal directive to survive the first pregnancy. I know for sure that it’s not genetics because my mother kept her weight gain under 30lbs (as she regularly and annoyingly reminded me).
It definitely wasn’t my diet, despite the nurses and doctors telling me in their patronizing tones that I should lay off the junk food and fast food, as though that could be the only reason I was so fat. The thing is, I think I ate normally during my pregnancy with Echo—with perhaps a few more pickles and dairy items to squelch my cravings—and that included a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables and lots of vegetarian protein, like usual.
Altogether, I gained (a shocking!) 56lbs the first time around. Gratefully, I had lost 46lbs by the time she was 6 months old, and this did not include any dieting. I resumed exercising after I’d recovered from childbirth and kept up my healthy eating as before. I’m grateful to the return of a naturally fast metabolism that was certainly aided by breastfeeding. The last 10lbs came off gradually later in the year and then I was back to my old self again by the time she was 11 months old.
The moral of this story is that I know I’ll recover. I’m not stressed out about it.
So, I’m avoiding the scale.
My midwife in Canada says she rarely has people weigh themselves throughout their pregnancies because it’s not important as long as a woman’s pregnancy is progressing normally. I was very relieved to hear that.
I know that my body will do this. So, bring it on. I’ve already started to have large love handles perched on my hips again. My breasts have started to spill off the sides of my body like they’ve been pumped full of air and are ready to float away, horizontally. My thighs are thickening. Even my arms are spreading. Welcome to my pregnant body.
This is definitely not my ideal “look,” but I am much more able to accept its reality now that I’m not having to report to a bunch of pursed lipped Chinese nurses and doctors who look at me disapprovingly. What’s more, I know it’s normal for me. I may not gain as much weight this time or I might gain more, but it doesn’t matter. I’ll recover.
Besides, I won’t know how much I’ve gained until the very end anyway. I’ve decided I’ll wait until Christmas Day (the due date) to weigh myself again, once and for all. From now until then, my Christmas present to myself will be to embrace whatever my body does to support this life inside of me.
And, for a woman who has never really had an ass, it’s my chance to flaunt some booty, right? “Baby got back!”
So, scale, you do not exist.
(And with that sentence, I just took another bite of my cucumber dipped in hummus. Yum.)
This post first appeared on Ember Swift’s website on August 29, 2013.
Photo by Meagan (Flickr) and Wikimedia commons
Ember Swift is a Canadian songwriter, musician, writer, cyclist, green thumb, cupcake fan and proud mom living in Beijing with her husband, Guo Jian, and their daughter Echo (born January 2012). They are expecting a second child at the end of 2013. Ember writes professionally for several print and online publications (including beijingkids), as well as three blogs through her own site: www.emberswift.com. She is also an internationally touring musician and performs regularly in China with her all-girl local band. She has released 11 independent musical albums over the years but, these days, prefers to be with her family rather than on the road touring. She continues to release her music online and hopes to have completed her memoir project by the end of 2014.